NEW YORK (Billboard) - When tickets for Phish’s Sunday night (November 22) show in Syracuse, N.Y., went on sale back in October, all 6,700 of them were gone in 15 minutes -- and with good reason. The last time Phish performed at the War Memorial arena was November 1994. Local fans were ready for another show, and the band was certainly ready to give it to them.
Returning to the stage alongside guitarist Trey Anastasio were keyboardist Page McConnell, bassist Mike Gordon and drummer and Syracuse native Jon Fishman. Anastasio made sure to pay tribute to Fishman’s homecoming midway through the second set. “We’re playing tonight in a venue where he saw five of his first concerts,” he said after banging out the metal tune “Big Black Furry Creatures From Mars,” a song they have not played since their March 2009 reunion. Anastasio also acknowledged Fishman’s father, a local orthodontist who was in the audience. When he asked everyone who had visited Dr. Fishman’s practice to stand up, the crowd went wild for the regional reference.
Other than the hometown shout-outs, Phish kept crowd interaction to a minimum, blowing away fans with two very distinct two-hour sets. Although the band had some songs in mind, it was clear that many of the set list decisions were made onstage. The first set was generally less improvisational than the second, as Phish focused more on short songs and tight segues and left the jam sessions for later. The group showed no signs of a five-year hiatus once they started jamming with opener “David Bowie.” The set went on to feature fan favorites: “Lawn Boy” with McConnell on lead vocals, “Sample in a Jar,” “Heavy Things,” and set closer “Stash.”
Phish also played “Kill Devil Falls,” a cut from the band’s new album, “Joy,” that fit in seamlessly with the older material, and two covers: Son Seals’ “Funky Bitch” and Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie on Reggae Woman,” the melody of which Anastasio reamed on his guitar. The set ended with a solo by McConnell on “Beauty of a Broken Heart” and the crowd pleaser “Stash,” which left fans eager for intermission to end as soon as it began.
Phish let it all out during the second set with long jams, smooth segues, and guitar shreds that electrified the arena. McConnell’s melodic piano notes introduced a cover of the Who’s “Drowned,” and the band jammed out of the opener and right into “Twist” and “Piper.” A neon mass of glow sticks flew through the air during “Twist,” and balloons and blow-up monster dolls bounced around the audience for the whole show.
Fishman and Anastasio jammed together on their song “Tube” and filled the remainder of the set with tunes like “Theme From the Bottom” and “Maze.” They closed the show with “Character Zero” and “First Tube,” two consecutive rockers that had the whole place jumping, singing and definitely in need of the brief break between the second set and the encore, for which Phish performed “Good Times Bad Times.”
The crowd, composed of both Bonnaroo-loving college kids and their Deadhead parents, seemed to be thanking Phish for returning to Syracuse every time they cheered. As thousands of fans filed out of the arena, all that could be heard was talk about “next time.”
Phish wrapped its tour Tuesday (November 24) in Philadelphia. The band will play a four-night stand at Miami’s American Airlines Arena from December 28 through New Year’s Eve.